Well, I’ve got to say goodbye to another excellent group of students from my undergraduate electromagnetism class. We had the final today (starting at 8:00am – ack!), and given the lack of rioting, tears, and throwing of rotten fruit during the exam itself, I assume that it was not too bad an exam to sit. Of course, the real measure of what they thought will be how they did in the actual answering of questions, and I’ve not looked to see how that has turned out yet.
Again, I feel a bit sad since it was a good group of students and it was fun to teach them this material. While it is certainly good to move on to other things (I’ve too many projects I want to work on, as usual), I will miss the twice weekly classes with them. Highlights this year include (in no particular order):
(1) The thing I love to do when we are studying dipole radiation – taking the class outside (surprising them somewhat) to look up at the blue sky and connect why it is blue to the computation we just did, including understanding the pattern of the blueness Continue reading ‘Final’
The many squash plants in the garden this season all started a rather cluttered rush of fruiting. Some of them stalled in their growth, and overall it seemed a good idea to remove these small ones and some others, generally thinning the plants a bit to allow them to focus their energy resources into fewer squashes. A bonus of this procedure… an early Summer squash banquet!
Earlier this week I made a very tasty bean stew with some beans harvested from last Continue reading ‘Baby Harvest’
So I’ve moved on to curved lines now, in case you’re wondering. (See previous posts.) The last several days (the research parts) have been taken up with more computations. A lot of the time has been spent calibrating the programs, and trying to assess and understand and characterize the inevitable errors that show up, by running the programs and checking the resulting plots of data points against expectations shaped by hand calculations. Calculating on the train to and from work, I’ve filled several pages of my small notebook with computations, alongside sketches of some of my surroundings as usual (people mostly). As a result (fingers crossed) I think I’ve now understood all the key aspects of the results I’ve been getting, and have good numerical control of things. To get such control, I’ve had to push the error tolerance and the size of the grid of points I’m computing on to regimes where I’m back again to waiting for the better part of an hour for each data point. (One sets up the problem on the computer by making continuous variables, such as space and time, into discrete ones, forming a grid. The problem is then to use various Continue reading ‘Lines of Thought’
How is the line coming along? It is very kind of you to ask (if indeed you were). Well, there it is to the left. (See the previous post for background.) In the end, I abandoned Maple since it was taking way too long to do each point, and just for the simple example. (When I tried to do one sample point of the complicated example it took 24 hours and I stopped it before it was done!) The point is that Maple does not easily Continue reading ‘A Much Shorter Straight Line’
I’ve been multitasking in an interesting way. Sort of. I’ve reached a certain point with some computations I am doing that I cannot go beyond by analytic means. This means that I can’t extract the physics I need by doing algebra and other exact manipulations on paper any more. Progress can continue however by using numerical means, employing a computer to solve the highly non-linear equations and extract the juice. There are several steps involved, and ultimately, I want to determine how a certain physical quantity depends on another physical quantity. (I’m sparing you the trouble of knowing what the details of the physical quantities are, since it does not matter for the thing I am trying to tell you. It relates to quantum field theory, gravity, and string theory, which connects the two.)
I can see that dependence quite clearly if I simply plot a graph of one versus the other, and in this case I need the computer to work out what the points on that graph are. I actually don’t know the answer for the cases I really am interested in, nobody does (that’s why it is research!), and so that’s what I want to find. I want lots of points to get a nice smooth graph, so the computer has to compute a lot of points, and I need to run it for a long time since I want it to compute the points very accurately. So I wrote a program (in Maple) to work on the problem, studying just one Continue reading ‘A Very Long Straight Line’
Because Winter is coming… (?)
Here’s a timelapse video of the CicLAVia ride from Sunday 21st April. (I’ve done one for each of the past rides as well, so search on “ciclavia” for them if you wish.) My thoughts about the ride were posted back on the day, and there’s lots of discussion at that post on some of the issues I raised, so go and have a look if you like, and feel free to join in. I did the ride on the Brompton, as usual, and this time I was accompanied by my colleague Krzysztof Pilch, who was riding one as well. We even saw a few others on the way, which was nice.
The video is a bit flawed, not the least because at some point the top of my bag started puffing up a bit and blocking part of the view. Also, I’ve not laid on some funky music like the fancy folk do, so it is quite silent. But there it is as a record of most of the 13-15 mile route from Downtown to Venice beach:
Continue reading ‘CicLAVia Time Lapse’
Well, I’m exhausted, and so am certainly not going to give you a full report on everything right now. I hope to do another post with my usual time-lapse video of the ride some time later (but soon). They are uploading from my camera right now. All I will give you right now is a shot of the crowds at a typical stop along the route. Also, I will say a few words that will probably get me into trouble.
The bottom line is that I remain a huge supporter of cicLAvia, and the idea that it is planting in everyone’s minds – getting out of your cars and cycling. This is especially important for a city like LA. And it is not just for all the environmental reasons, to do with energy use, air quality, and so forth. I can go on about those but I won’t. See earlier posts for that sort of thing. It is also because many people get to properly see their city in these events, which is really important. You can’t see it from a car – and I don’t just mean all the buildings and wonderful hidden gems I sometimes talk about, but I mean the other people who live in the city with you. That’s a big deal, and an important one for when it comes to how we all work and live together. I’m also very excited that the organizers tried this cross-city route, linking East and West, getting West side based people involved in the fun. And overall I enjoyed today a lot… I love the event and will keep coming and keep supporting it.
But. Yeah, I’m going to say something negative, but only in the spirit of support for Continue reading ‘CicLAvia and Festival of Books’
As I said in the previous post, consider using the subway (the Expo line in particular) to come to the LA Times Festival of Books tomorrow. The campus is now very busy and parking is a pain. Look where I had to put my car today*!
Continue reading ‘Parking Heroics’
There’s a busy weekend coming up. Somehow, two of the largest events on the LA calendar have been put on the same weekend – rather unfortunately in my opinion. The LA Times Festival of Books (held on the USC campus) is on Saturday and Sunday, and I’m excited about that (as you know I am every year). I recommend exploring the site for the things you might visit (including the book prizes shortlists – awards will be given out tonight, including special ones to Margaret Atwood and to Kevin Starr!), and then go along and have some fun – all in the name of books, reading, and the worlds that are opened up through books and reading. It should be a great day or two out, and the extra great news is that you can take the subway there. The Expo line goes right up to ten feet from the Festival. You step off at the USC/Expo stop, cross from the platform to the sidewalk, and there you are! Books! Food! Music! Etc…
CicLAvia, another event that brings thousands of people together in the city, is on Sunday. It is extra exciting this year since for the first time it has a route that fully fits with where I think the event should be in the life of the city – it runs from Continue reading ‘Busy Weekend’
It’s that time again. I finish a notebook and start a new one. A new book is begun with writing my name and contact information in the front part, in case it gets lost, and an old one is ended with mixed feelings, and that ending is often a bit drawn out. Notebooks go around with me nearly everywhere, and have pieces of me in them in one shape or another, and so it is hard to stop carrying one and start a new one. I’ve got bits of computations, shopping lists, partial thoughts about projects, design sketches, doodles, snippets of silent conversations between me and another person at a concert or talk (writing it down is often less distracting to neighbours than a whisper), scribbled phone numbers, film, book or cd reminders, and of course lots of practice sketches and doodles on trains, planes, and in automobiles, done almost on a daily basis, sketches done in (and sometimes of) an event, or of a interesting place or structure. (You’ve seen some of them here on the blog.) Almost everything has a date written on the page, or on a page nearby, which is hugely valuable.
It’s a combination of notebook, journal, playground for ideas, and more. It is a joy to just open it up and flip through it and see so much of the last few months of my life and thought spread out in ink and pencil (and sometimes watercolour). Sometimes I hit on a particularly successful or interesting (or both) drawing that I love to open up and look at from time to time. You can search the blog under “sketches” for things that were in previous books. For example, a few of my favourites from this book are: Sketch of C. Tyler during her talk, sketch during a committee meeting, airline sketch of a national treasure, other airline sketches, a nice grab of a face from the subway, another airline sketch.
All of that now gets put on a shelf, since the pages have run out. It is bitter-sweet, as I also like the analogue, finite nature of the whole business. It has a lot of life written Continue reading ‘Changeover Time’
Well, yes, I’ve been a bit busy and so posting has been slow over the last week. But I am still alive, and here I am with a sample of one of the several things I was doing. It is some work on the graphic book project. (You’ll be happy that I am sparing you details of tedious committees, faculty meetings, confusing snippets of physics, incomplete musings and computations, etc…)
As mentioned recently, I’ve been doing thumbnails and rough page layouts on one of the stories, and that has been useful for editing and rewriting. I went further and improved an earlier story that I’d written that had mostly been drawn already, and so that encouraged me to do slightly tighter page layouts so as to fit them more closely to the story as it was already drawn, for a smoother final read. I’ll need to find Continue reading ‘How is that Supposed to Work, Exactly?’
Waveguides are fun. I mean on the page, although I imagine that they are fun to play with as fully realized physical objects too. But I was talking about them in the context of teaching undergraduate electromagnetism, as I am doing on my class this semester. I tell the class after the second week of class or so that we’re essentially done, and can all head to the beach since by then we’ve completed the derivation of Maxwell’s equations, which describe fully all electromagnetic phenomena. The rest of the class is essentially a semester of picking various situations in which we deploy the equations and study particular solutions. Of course, they realize that there is reason to stay, since that’s really the heart of it – studying those various situations and appreciating the range of delights those equations can yield. Among the most fascinating and delightful of those, er, delights, is light. Electromagnetic waves in general, and we study them in a whole lot of situations, including nipping along unfettered in free space, in conducting materials Continue reading ‘Lecture Thoughts’
Got a 30 second elevator pitch about your research? Several of my colleagues over at the USC Keck School of Medicine have. Here are 9 in a playlist: Continue reading ‘USC Keck School Stem Cell Elevator Pitches…’
…Einstein’s birthday, Pi Day, and talk like a Physicist Day! and I forgot to do the post about it that I’d intended to. Drat. It has been very busy here.
Stealing from a post I did on this triple-purpose day back in 2008:
Continue reading ‘Today is…’
Well, yes, I’ve been very busy with several things. After clearing away a lot of them, I decided last night that it had been long enough since I’d visited a “drop in and draw” studio to practice figure drawing, and so I went along. (I’ve written about this on previous occasions…you drop in, pay a fee towards the model’s salary, and then you draw. You can find such studios in your own city if you wish. There’s nothing like live figure drawing for practicing observation, hand-eye coordination, and a host of other skills that need regular maintenance.)
Anyway, I dropped in, said hi, started up some Kate Bush (“The Sensual World”) on the ipod (followed by Mayte Martin – “Al Cantar a Manuel”) and I drew. A great and Continue reading ‘Rusty’
Well, that was a hugely fun evening! The Cinefamily screening of Primer was sold out to a packed and enthusiastic audience. (That alone was worth it…) I met Shane Carruth back stage for a few minutes and immediately was impressed. I like people who take the time to think carefully about what they are going to say before saying it, visibly carefully weighing what was just said in the conversation and then adding to it in an interesting way. He’s one of those people. So I knew that the panel discussion was going to be great.
Hadrian Belove, Shane Carruth and Clifford Johnson at Cinefamily screening of Primer. (Photo: Charles Constantine)
Hadrian Belove, Shane Carruth and Clifford Johnson at Cinefamily screening of Primer. (Photo: Charles Constantine)
We started off with an introduction from the executive director of Cinefamily, Hadrian Belove, who introduced us and asked me to say a few words before the film began. I kept it brief, and started by congratulating Cinefamily on doing the Science on Screen series, saying that it is an important thing to do (which it is -it is part of a Sloan funded national program; more here) and then went on to say Continue reading ‘Science on Screen – Primer’
Today (Tuesday) saw me up at 6:30am to prepare for an 8:00am call time for a shoot on a special episode of – wait for it – Deadliest Space Weather. It is original programming for the Weather channel, and before you dismiss it because of the title, it turns out that it is not a bad idea for exploring various scientific concepts. The first season ended a few weeks ago. I’d not realized it was airing until recently, and actually those recent demos I told you about were used in examinations of planetary conditions on Venus and on Mars. (Two separate episodes.) The idea seems to be to consider what it would be like on earth if the conditions were like those on Venus, or consider what what happen if you went outdoors on Mars.
So you might think it is silly, but if done well, it is actually an opportunity to
explain some science to an audience who might not have been the usual science audience…in which case I’m happy to be on board! In addition to spectacularly showing what happens when sugar and sulphuric acid meet, I got to show how to boil Continue reading ‘Tales from the Industry XXXIX – Magnetic Weather?’
I learned last week that there’s a new regular item in the New York Times’ science section where Jascha Hoffman does a round up of a few notable Science events, books, etc., around the nation. It is noted this week that Cinefamily starts up its new Science on Screen series (funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) starting Wednesday night with the excellent film “Primer”. (Photo is from the website.) If you don’t know it, and if you’re in the area, go and see it! As a bonus, you’ll have the writer/director of the film, Shane Carruth, present for introductions and Q&A. He’ll be accompanied by some scientist dude called Clifford V. Johnson who, according to the website, will Continue reading ‘Primer, and More…’
A while ago I got an email out of the blue from an enthusiastic young fellow who wanted to do an interview with me on camera for his YouTube channel. After we bounced emails back and forth a bit and I got a sense that this was both legitimate, worth supporting, and that I had time to do it, we agreed that we’d meet to do it. So we met at the excellent Mystery and Imagination bookshop in Glendale, and he set the camera running and threw a bunch of questions at me. We talked about all sorts of things from dark matter, the LHC, supersymmetry and string theory to trumpets, jazz clubs, and noir films.
It was fun, and you can find the results on his YouTube channel (here), that he hopes to populate with more interviews with people working in science and other topics. He’s got an interview with mathematical physicist John Baez up there already, so go and look.
Below I’ve embedded the interview with me, for your convenience.
Enjoy! Continue reading ‘Interview!’
There’s a news article out about the results of the USC Science Film Competition that you might like to read. It is by Susan Bell and it is in USC Dornsife News here. In there, you’ll find interviews with one of the winning teams of students, as well as with me. I talk about my reasons for running this competition each year and what I hope to achieve. (Photo courtesy of USC Dornsife.)
The showcase and awards ceremony, held on January 23rd, was a success, and it was a pleasure to meet with many of the students who participated, and feel the buzz of excitement in the room. Thanks everyone who participated, including the panel of judges for their hard work. Once again, the Anton Burg Foundation supported the competition (funding things like the large prizes I had the pleasure of giving away) and we’re all very grateful for that.
Ok, well of course you want to know the outcome, right? Well, here goes. I’ve included the titles and membership of the interdisciplinary teams below, along with Continue reading ‘USC Science Film Competition 2013 – Results!’
…Well, it is a lot of other things too, all marvellous, but it was quite a surprise to me that science, the love of it, (and to some extent, the method of it) is so overtly celebrated in the film. I’m a huge Tim Burton fan, and so that was a bonus for me since I was already predisposed to like the film, when I went to see it several weeks ago. I love the depictions of the suspicions and the misunderstandings, the boy hiding away and doing his Continue reading ‘Frankenweenie is a Love Letter to Science!’
I went to see Wayne Shorter last night! He’s still one of my favourite composers, so it was great to go and hear the work he’s been doing recently. It was a series of suites that have his quartet (with John Patitucci (bass), Brian Blade (drums), and Danilo Perez (piano)) accompanied by the LA Philharmonic to bring out, amplify, and explore a wider range of harmonies than you’d get with the quartet alone. It was a great evening, enhanced further by the fact that on two pieces, he had as special guest (singing on one and playing bass and singing on the other) Esperanza Spalding (who I’d seen recently at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam – post here), who I’ve now learned has a stunning voice! Stunning. Remarkable Continue reading ‘Shorter Sweeter’
Frustratingly, I lost several hours this weekend on a new computer problem, when of course I’d planned to work on several things before turning my attention back to teaching and other matters of the week. I needed to install a new piece of software and strangely my computer’s optical drive could not read the CD-R that it was on. The computer kept reporting a blank disc had meen inserted. I checked on another computer and the disc was fine so the problem had to be with my computer. I tried to get it to recognize an audio CD but that was rejected outright. But what was the problem exactly? Investigation involved taking care to restart, attempt to reset firmware, PRAM, etc., trying to figure out how to run the hardware test (on a late 2008 unibody model macbook pro), etc. The latter involved me discovering that the hardware test software was no longer on the machine (since upgrading to Mountain Continue reading ‘Just Jiggle It’
Last night I went to a nice event as part of the Visions and Voices series. It was an interview of (perhaps conversation with is a better way to describe it) writer and artist Carol Tyler by Henry Jenkins, who is a professor here at USC in the Annenberg School of Communication (check out his excellent blog here). C. Tyler is well known for her work in the comics and graphic novel world (or graphic book, if you prefer) particularly in the underground comics movement. She is one of the most well known memoirists in this medium, telling the story of her family life, and in particular a great deal of her father’s retelling of experiences in war, and its effects on him, her, and her family. It was good to go along and listen to her talk about her journey in producing the three books that came out of that project (“You’ll Never Know”), other projects, and a little bit of her personal history as a writer and artist. (See Henry Jenkins’ post about her here, and her own website here. Many of her books are published by Fantagraphics.)
I met and spoke with her
last year (update/correction: two years ago) very briefly (she certainly won’t remember), since a few of us (including her) were waiting in the lobby of the LA Times building for the LA Times Book Prizes ceremony to start. She was a nominee in the graphic novel category. We talked for a few minutes and then went in. I remember being struck by Continue reading ‘C. Tyler’s Visit to USC’
While it is indeed quite quiet in the garden at this time of year, that does not mean it is not producing. Here’s a bowl of lovely tart oranges that the tree has produced in large numbers. There’s also, Continue reading ‘Winter Fruits’
Another dude you may or may not recognize. This is for those of you who wondered who I’d find next to do a sketch of, and is another of those sketches done in the cramped conditions of my airline seat after browsing through a magazine to find an interesting face. See the previous post on this practice. There’s this series of print commercials for a watch or something similar that has served me well with well-lit faces, and so when I thumbed through this month’s Hemispheres, I was quite pleased.
I did this one with a mechanical HB pencil, and it is quite incomplete… there’s a bit of tinkering I could do with the modelling of the cheeks and around the Continue reading ‘More Scribbling’
The showcase and awards ceremony for the Science Film Competition is tomorrow (Wednesday)! It’ll be in the film school, at the Stark Family Theater (SCA 108), at 7:00pm. I’ll be screening films that were entered into the competition, and then at the end of the evening, giving out large prizes! $3000 first prize, $2000 second, and $1000 third. Should be a fun evening, with refreshments after the ceremony!
Come along and bring friends. Continue reading ‘Showcase!’
So that was by far the most ill I’ve been in many years. The flu wore on for five days, with two and a half of them having me mostly in delirium, fighting highs and lows of fevers… quite remarkable. Then I had two extra days of eating very little, so that by time I started eating real food again on Saturday, and going outside, it was as though the world had been made anew to see and taste various things I’d not had in a while…
Ok… I suppose this means maybe next flu season I’ll finally start taking flu shots? We’ll see.
Anyway, I am reasonably sure that I caught that virus while passing through Atlanta airport on my way back from New Orleans. There, so many paths cross as it is a major hub. Spending two hours there gave me ample time to pick something up. Then there’s the plane as well, with four hours to sit in one space in contact with the things a possibly infected traveller before me had contact with. Nice.
I’ve been much better for a few days now, and semester has got going here. I’ve given Continue reading ‘Recovery and Jumping Back in’
Happy New Year! I wish you all the best for the New Year. If I’m lucky enough to have one half as good as last year, I’ll be a very lucky man indeed.
The photo shows the cufflinks I wore last night to a very special celebration that I co-organized and co-hosted for New Year’s Eve. It was a private party and the Los Angeles Natural History Museum was the venue. We were honored to get to do the first ever New Year’s Eve celebration there! With the help of some friends (and three months of planning) we were able to turn the Hall of North American Mammals into a great party space, (with the appropriate security and so forth needed to use such a space for a safe private function), and celebrate in a sort of art-meets-science environment. Music (live and recorded), food, drink, dancing, and general merriment prevailed until the wee hours, and then we went off into the night on the Expo line. It was an excellent evening.
A great start to the year…
Now, about the cufflinks. I love them. They’re made with vintage watch movements, and you can see some of the rubies Continue reading ‘Happy New Year!’
I seem to be having a bit of friction with Nature right now. Need to sort this out. Monday, waking up in the desert (family visit – staying in a house not a tent), I put my hand on my pants to put them on and go out into the world. There was a strikingly sharp and hard jab, as though I’d grabbed a needle with my finger. I thought it odd, not having had a needle or other pointed object in my clothing. I decided to have a look… There, partly visible in one of the pockets was a scorpion! I thought about this for a few seconds and tried to recall whether there was some kind of venomous variety in this area, and whether this was one of them. Pausing for a while, I felt slightly dizzy for a tiny moment and then decided that was my imagination, and then I carried the pants out to the kitchen to discuss the matter with one of my hosts. After some research (and his rapid dispatching of the unfortunate beast), I decided that it was the wrong sort, and moreover, at only a few inches in length, probably too juvenile. Also, my finger showed no signs of distress, and so I got on with the day.
Last night, back home in Los Angeles, I discovered an unwelcome visitor in my crawl Continue reading ‘Critter Battles’
I hope you’re having a really great and peaceful holiday time, whatever tradition you use to celebrate the season. I’ve been rather taken up with a number of things, including a bit of family travel, and family visits, which meant that I lost some blogging days. Sorry about the quiet.
Is anyone else hoping that (when they release it in the future on DVD/Blueray) the director’s cut of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” will actually be 40 minutes shorter than what’s out in cinemas now?
…of Mexico. It was an excellent evening again this year (November 30th, actually). This was the second one (the first was in 2010) and I think the idea is to try to make it an annual event. It is in that great space downtown, Vibiana, the former Cathedral of St. Vibiana (now de-frocked, I suppose).
Anyway, the fellow (photograph right) making something (whatever it was) using liquid nitrogen caught my scientist’s eye (I usually carry a couple with me when I go out). It reminded me of the ice-cream people used to make at various departmental parties in physics departments in my past. (Always seemed like a good idea for novelty, but I never ate any of the ice-cream. I think I’m a fan of making things like that the slow way, letting the flavours settle in…) I wondered what he was making, but did not wait to find out since I was not on my own and a crowd immediately formed around him.
What happened a short time later was a bit unexpected. I enjoyed listening Continue reading ‘Taste’
Well, Thursday’s meeting was a blast! I had decided not to try to get people to RSVP for the meeting this time, and so when it came down to the day before, I had no idea how many were going to show up. This meant that I had to make some guesses about how much coffee and tea and cookies to organize, which was a little bit of a challenge. But just before 9:00am people began to show up, and kept showing up, and by time I was ready to start off the day’s meeting, there was a really good crowd!
In the end it was a great day, with five really good talks and lots of excellent discussion. Continue reading ‘Local Connections’
You might remember that during the Spring and early Summer I was deeply embroiled in making a film. (See several earlier posts, e.g. here, here, here, and here).) It was a short film to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Aspen Center for Physics, and I was keen (in my role as filmmaker) to give it a treatment that benefits from my being a theoretical physicist, and one who is familiar enough with the Center, all in order to get the right tone of the film. (Jump to the end of the post if you want to see it without more background thoughts.) There’s a spirit of the Center that is quiet, reflective, and inspiring of thoughts that need time to be explored, so I definitely did not want the usual loud, buzzing, overly busy type of film that you often see about science activity. It did not seem appropriate. Working with Dave Gaw (who was an awesome principal cinematographer and editor for the project) and with Bob Melisso (who shared some of the production and direction work with me), I think the result strikes the right note overall. A fun side note: I got to design a number of unique (and definitely handcrafted) elements for the look that I think you’ll like and recognize from other visual work of mine you’ve seen on this blog, and just as with my earlier film projects from 2009 (see here and here) it was a real buzz to help figure out how to make them fly, and then see the elements come together in their final form up on screen.
People really seemed to like the film a lot, from what I’ve heard. (It was shown extensively at many of the Summer events celebrating the 50th at the Center.) So while it did take a lot of my time, it seems like it was time well worth spending since Continue reading ‘Premiering…!’
The next Southern California Strings Seminar is on Thursday 13th December! I’ve now made the website for this one and it is here. Come back to it from time to time to see the updates of talk titles as speakers let me know what they are. It is a one-day event filled with five talks and plenty of time for discussion. I’ve snagged a lovely room in the Doheny library again. (Photo left has a shot of the room we used last time it was at USC in May 2011. The most recent one was over at UCLA.)
You are welcome to come and do physics with us! Also, if you’re part of a group in Continue reading ‘Southern California Strings Seminar’
Sort of stuck this morning. I was up at 6:30am (more or less my usual time these days) with good intentions to get back to do a nice stretch of work on The Project for the first time in a while. But it is almost 10:30am and I’ve done nothing (not counting procrastinating, making fruit compote for pancake breakfast, sending a bunch of emails, and so forth).
It is difficult sometimes to reboot back onto task on a project when one is suddenly done with one of the major things pulling you away from it. Classes are over, you see, and so I am transitioning into a different mode, and not super-efficiently.
I think maybe before I have to leave to run errands out in the world (after lunch), I must get something done toward Continue reading ‘Slow’
Penultimate lecture today in the graduate electromagnetism class. These last four lectures are a lightning tour through some important concepts – showing how many of the things we’ve been doing all semester fit with Special Relativity. (For example, amusingly, showing that the Lorenz gauge condition is in fact Lorentz invariant…) It is fun to show a powerful example of how an important guiding principle (such as writing equations in a Lorentz-covariant way) can end up making several features of the theory seem much more natural, while also leading to new physics. This is fun to do, although it does mean that I end up writing whole new notes for this since I am not a fan of the way some of these electromagnetism books (Jackson included) decide to treat time in an odd way, such as treating it as imaginary (which must be so confusing to some students) just so as to write Lorentz transformations like a rotation, or using mostly negative signatures for spacetime, and so forth. And, inexplicably, using different units of measurement from the choices made in the rest of the book… Anyway, so the last two lecture-writing sessions have mostly been one of fiddling with minus signs and factors of c, 4 Pi, minus one, and so forth. Joy. Well, the group seems excited since they’re beginning to see things that they’d seen in other classes and it is all making some sort of sense now (Klein-Gordon equation, duality, etc., etc…) I think the last class will show how many of these things flow from variational principles. Maybe I’ll find a little time to do the Born-Infeld model? I’m excited too, although I’ll be sad to end the class and stop working with this fun group of students.
Today I managed to grab a few sketches on the train. This afternoon coming home on the Expo line these two snoozing gentlemen were kind enough to sit still for a few minutes each for me to get down a few impressions of their features. This was all helped a bit by the train sitting still for a while as we waited for a truck to get off the line. Apparently it was parked or stuck there.
Perhaps not helpful was this young guy who watched me drawing and then decided Continue reading ‘Covariant’
…Again. I’ll be on the road again this morning. Heading to California State University Long Beach. They invited me to give a colloquium a while back and I agreed, and when I returned from New York last week I realized I needed to urgently spend a chunk of time thinking about what I was going to talk about, and designing a set of slides for it. The last couple of days saw me devoting a lot of time to it. Eventually I decided to dig back into ancient times (the 1990s) surveying some of the interesting things we’ve learned about strong coupling phenomena (involving unexpected reorganization of degrees of freedom and the number of spacetime dimensions at times), and then discuss what it all might be good for in view of work going on in the last decade or so.
Come to think of it just this moment, this is a chance to do a tribute to David Olive, who passed away earlier this month. (He was one of my professors when I was at Imperial College in the ’80s.) Ideas of strong/weak coupling dualities and their utility were given a huge boost by his work in this area from decades ago, perhaps the most famous being Montonen-Olive duality… I must remember to mention that in the talk. (See here for an archive of 2004 talks in celebration of his work. I borrowed the image to the right from there. I do not know who took it.)
Here’s the title and abstract:
Continue reading ‘Talking’